GOOD GNUS: Maybe I got slapped in the face by the right side of the bed when I got up this morning. In the past week, I witnessed multiple signs of intelligent life on Planet Santa Barbara, and given the Tsunami of Stupidity looming off the coast of Tampa — where the Republicans are currently convening — this needs to be reported. After alienating anyone but the extreme Right, the Republicans are desperately seeking new constituencies. To that end, they’re betting the farm on “Unborn,” endowing full personhood privileges to every fertilized egg, and declaring menstruation and masturbation murder. Only in this context does the GOP’s fight to defund birth control coverage from insurance policies make sense, while insisting that drugs inducing three-hour erections be kept.
Having gotten that off my chest, let me express my amazement at how more than 1,500 people packed the Granada Theatre last Saturday afternoon to say so long to Matt Sanchez, the Montecito barber and former gang member who worked so long and so stubbornly to keep others from following the path he charted as a young, charismatic, and scary shot-caller from the Eastside. I knew Matt a little and was most struck by the raw stamina of his optimism, even when the tribulations of his own life would have given Job a run for his money. Sanchez’s gift was seeing the good in others, even — and especially — when they couldn’t see it in themselves. Based on the testimony of several young men, Sanchez brought out the best in them. I was equally struck by the mix of people who showed up to get their ears seriously bent by some seriously talented speechifying preachers, including the likes of Father Greg Boyle, now almost a celebrity for his work with gang members in Los Angeles. Every vegetable from Santa Barbara’s salad bar was on hand: sitting judges, ex-cops, ex-gangsters, recovering addicts from every school of abuse, politicians past and present, a whole bunch of hoods he took to the woods, activists of every stripe, a sizable contingent of Harley riders, school boardmembers who sought Sanchez’s advice before deciding whether to expel or to suspend, and plenty of patrons from the Montecito barbershop who, it became clear, gave Matt the “hundreds of dollars” it cost to take at-risk kids on field trips to the Sierras — as opposed to the “hundreds of thousands,” Sanchez said (via film clip) it costs to lock them up in a state facility instead. And in terms of Santa Barbara’s persistent Juan Crow, white-brown cultural divide, the memorial was spectacularly ecumenical. I admit I lost the point of the parable about Elijah, and Eligia, but the moral of the story of how Sanchez brought traffic on Highway 5 to a halt so he could rescue a dog loose on what would otherwise have been a fatal stretch of freeway was unmistakable.
Likewise, last week, anyone who’s anyone crammed into Bohnett Park on Santa Barbara’s densely and intensely packed Westside, for what could easily be confused for yet another dorky, grip-and-grin ceremonial ribbon cutting. The park — named for former city mayor Floyd Bohnett, who persuaded the Rotary Club to which he belonged to donate the land to the city — has long been synonymous with gang activity in Santa Barbara’s popular imagination. At long last, City Hall and a large number of nonprofits have hatched a vast conspiracy to turn that around. They enlisted Manuel Unzueta — Have Mural, Will Travel — and his daughter Annette Unzueta to design a 100-foot wide mural on the back wall of the Boys & Girls Club. They enlisted 68 teens to help with the painting, many of whom had regarded that space as their personal graffiti gallery. When Ricardo Venegas tried to enlist help a year ago to paint a mural on the park’s restrooms, some of the young men hanging out demanded he lift his shirt to show he wasn’t wearing a wire. The same ones, this time, helped get others to get the job done. The La Cumbre Foundation fixed the park’s basketball courts, long afflicted with asphalt-eating weeds and ball-swallowing craters on the backboards. And along the way, someone noticed that about half the lights in and around the park don’t work. Over the years, one of the mural artists told me, he and his friends learned to play handball in the dark. Naturally, one wonders how and why it took so long for people to figure out something so obvious. But, as I was gently reminded, sometimes it’s better to praise the light than curse the darkness.
Last but not least, it is worth noting that UCSB is poised at the precipice of becoming certified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a designation meaning that at least 25 percent of all undergraduates enrolled are Latinos. That could happen as early as October, and when it does, UCSB will become the first of the 61 top research powerhouses in the country to achieve this distinction. This did not happen by accident. Given that a statewide initiative passed in 1996 prohibits the consideration of race or ethnicity in admissions, it took commitment and ingenuity. Under the direction of Chancellor Henry Yang — and with strong faculty support — UCSB admissions officers were instructed to consider the educational backgrounds of qualified applicants’ parents. In other words, if a high school graduate was the first in his family to apply to college, consideration would be given. Clearly, there’s more to it than that, but the results speak for themselves. In 2001, 14.7 percent of all undergraduates had Hispanic last names. Last year, the number was 23.5 percent. For those freaking that qualified white students might be bumped as a result, chill. For every freshman space available at UCSB, there are two qualified applicants. By focusing limited resources on students who’ve demonstrated a past drive to perform, UCSB has inadvertently — and perhaps verdantly — narrowed a glaring inequality in educational access. Not bad. In the meantime, watch out for falling good news. If we’re not careful, we could have an epidemic.